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November 07, 2019

Childhood trauma leads to poorer health as adults, CDC analysis finds

Children's Health Trauma
CDC childhood trauma and adult health Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

Children who experience trauma in the home – including domestic violence, sexual assault or drug abuse – are more likely to experience poor health as adults, a CDC analysis finds.

Children who experience or witness a traumatic event in the home have a higher risk for poor health as adults, according to an analysis conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than half of adults have had at least one adverse childhood experience, a grouping that includes domestic violence, sexual assault, drug abuse or mental health issues, according to the analysis. More than 15.6% have experienced at least four types of ACEs. 

These events appear to have long-lasting consequences on their health and other parts of their lives. ACEs have been linked to depression, suicide, risky behaviors and unemployment, as well as life-threatening diseases like cancer, heart disease, respiratory illnesses and diabetes. 

The more ACEs a child experiences, the higher their risk of having poor health as an adult, researchers found.

The CDC used 2015-2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey data to investigate the relationship between childhood trauma, poor health outcomes and various socioeconomic factors. The study included more than 144,000 adults.

"While it might not be possible to avoid every adverse childhood experience, there are many opportunities to prevent ACEs from happening in the first place and to help those who have experienced ACEs," CDC Principal Deputy Director, Dr. Anne Schuchat told U.S. News & World Report.

The analysis also found that women, black adults and other racial and ethnic minorities had a greater chance of being exposed to four or more ACEs than men and white adults. In addition, younger adults had a higher exposure to different ACEs than older adults did.

This may stem from "living in underresourced neighborhoods and from historical and ongoing trauma causes by systemic racism or multigenerational poverty," the researchers wrote.

By better addressing trauma, the number of people suffering from heart disease and other health conditions can be significantly reduced, researchers said. They recommended including more comprehensive health services, better support for parents at the state and community levels and increasing earned income tax credits.

"By creating the conditions for health communities and focusing on primary prevention, it is possible to reduce risk for adverse childhood experiences while also mitigating consequences for those already affected by these experiences," the report stated.

The first ACE study was a joint collaboration between the CDC and Kaiser Permanente conducted between 1995 and 1997. At that time, about 26% of the study participants had experienced one ACE while 12.5% reported having 4 or more.

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